A Legacy of Helping Generations of Health Science Students
July 7, 2023
Growing up in Greeley in the 1960s and 1970s as an only child, Dr. Mary Jo Drew ‘79 had, as she put it, an idyllic childhood. She had many friends to spend time with in her neighborhood and a nearly insatiable curiosity. With two encouraging and ahead-of-their-time parents, she was allowed to follow her interests wherever they led. A self-proclaimed “science geek,” she had to know more about everything around her, whether it be rocks, the clouds in the sky or the organs in the human body.
It only made sense that by 6 or 7 years old, she knew she wanted to be a doctor, even though the norm at the time was for women to be nurses, not doctors.
During her visit to the University of Northern Colorado (UNC), Drew loved the small introductory class sizes. While many universities packed introductory classes with hundreds of students, Drew felt UNC would give her the education she sought. While pursuing her degree in Biological Sciences in the College of Natural and Health Sciences, those class sizes helped Drew understand the teaching material and build personal relationships with her professors. Drew's learning experience at UNC left such an impression that she can still remember the names of each of her professors.
Throughout her college years, Drew feels that her mentors not only prepared her for the career she would have but also became her second family. Now living in Loveland, Drew cherishes the 20-minute drive to Greeley to visit her former professor Ed Richards, and his wife, Jean.
“I still stay in touch with Ed and Jean Richards,” said Drew. “When I was working out of state and came back to see my parents while they were living in Denver, or the year my dad was ill and passed away, I would stay with them in Greeley. I had become one of their surrogate children.”
Although Drew might not be as close with all her mentors from UNC, she remembers each one—their names, classes and how they prepared her for medical school and beyond. The affection is evident in her voice and at how she laughs as she describes their impact on her life over the years.
When Drew was accepted to the University of Colorado School of Medicine, she remembers classes like anatomy and biochemistry being incredibly rigorous. She credits her time at UNC for preparing her well to succeed throughout medical school.
Dr. Mary Jo Drew
“By the time I got to medical school, I already knew much of the material in the first two years of classes,” said Drew. “I’d had such good preparation because I had taken biochemistry series and minored in Chemistry.”
During her years at UNC, Drew worked at what was formerly known as the Weld County General Hospital in Greeley. This is where she met her friend Bill deAtherage ‘80. Drew worked as a phlebotomist in a lab at the hospital while deAtherage was a morgue assistant helping with autopsies.
Reminiscing about her friend, Drew says, “I can still see him skulking down the hall in his overly long lab coat. He and I had similarly peculiar and somewhat ironic senses of humor, so we bonded.”
Through her friendship with deAtherage, Drew remembers sitting in on autopsies that were very different from what you’d see now. Back then, the pathologists often wouldn’t even wear gloves.
Upon his passing, deAtherage left his estate to Drew. After taking a few months to consider, Drew approached UNC to establish the William J. deAtherage Memorial Scholarship Endowment to honor her friend’s memory and help the next generation of UNC students. From this endowment one or two scholarships have been awarded for nearly 20 years to upper-level premedical students.
Through her own estate commitment and annual support, Drew also established her own scholarship, the Mary Jo Drew, MD, MHSA, Health Careers Scholarship Endowment to help students pursuing a career in health.
“My hard work was at least half of it, but UNC was the start of it. That got me into medical school, which opened that door and led to everything that followed. I feel like I owe UNC a lot,” said Drew.
A scholarship recipient herself, Drew lived at home and worked between 20 and 25 hours a week while attending UNC. She saved a lot of money that way and wants to help those who aren’t as fortunate as she was.
If possible, Drew enjoys personally meeting every recipient of the deAtherage Scholarship. She takes the time to sit down and tell the students his story and show them a picture from his time as a student at UNC. Drew continues giving to the university because she views it as a continuum. She likes the next generation to know who came before them.
Drew explains to scholarship recipients the meaningfulness behind her support by saying, “We had our time, and this is your time, and I want this to be a time when you can concentrate on getting your degree.”
Drew has had a lengthy and impressive career that has taken her all over the country. The division head of Transfusion Medicine and medical director of the blood bank at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan and the chief medical officer at the American Red Cross Pacific Northwest Regional Blood Services in Portland, Oregon, are just some of the positions Drew held throughout her distinguished career.
The outstanding impact that Drew continues to have on UNC and numerous students’ lives resulted in her being named a 1993 UNC Honored Alumni, and she now serves on the Honored Alumni selection committee. Drew’s pride for being a UNC alumna is evident in the way she talks about her experience, gives back to the next generation, and helps identify other alumni who go above and beyond for the UNC community. A self-proclaimed “walking billboard” for the university, Drew couldn’t be more proud to be a Bear.
— written by Tamsin Fleming